03/01/10 — Back on the road again ...

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Back on the road again ...

By Laura Collins
Published in News on March 1, 2010 1:46 PM

The Job: Mechanic

The Company: Johnson's Wheel Alignment & Brake Service

The Location: Goldsboro

I have a bone to pick with the maker of battery terminal protector.

I sprayed it on a battery while working at Johnson's Wheel Alignment & Brake Service. It was yellow and had a familiar smell.

"You should come here and smell this," I said to owner Eric Johnson. I smelled it again trying to pinpoint the scent. "I think it smells like bananas."

"You really probably shouldn't smell that," he said. "I'm pretty sure it's toxic."

I looked at the can. This was true. I learned two things from this incident: It's idiotic to make something toxic smell like bananas. Also, I should probably always have supervision.

When I arrived at the garage Friday, I was ready to work. I had little experience fixing cars, but a ton of experience breaking cars, so I thought this might work to my advantage.

"Today is one of those days that make you question why we're in this business," Johnson said when I arrived.

I quickly learned that a lot of being a mechanic is not only telling people what's wrong with their car, but convincing people what they have decided is wrong with their car isn't, in fact, what's actually wrong with it.

One guy called in because his car wouldn't start. He said he needed a new starter and wanted to know the cost. Rather than just selling the man a starter, Johnson had it checked. As it turned out, he didn't need anything but to tighten the battery cable.

"You spend a lot of time educating people," Johnson said. "Two questions that everyone has when they come in is 'how much' and 'when's it going to be done.'"

Both are questions that Johnson doesn't answer until he has a chance to look at the vehicle.

Johnson is an interesting combination of a laidback but no-nonsense business man. He started in the business in 1964 after having one of the scariest conversations any young man can have with his future wife's father.

"How do you plan to make a living?" he was asked.

At that, Johnson went and got a job at Lee's Wheel Alignment, only two blocks from the business he now owns. He has a reputation for being fair and seems to know most people who call in, personally.

"We'll have you change the oil today," Johnson said.

"What kind of car is it?" I asked.


I agreed, but said I wasn't going to be the person driving it in or out of the garage. The last thing I need is to leave a Toyota-shaped hole in the back of Johnson's garage.

As the car was hoisted up, I noticed a National Rifle Association sticker in the back window and asked about the car's owner, who is apparently a former Air Force colonel. That's right about the point I got nervous. I remembered something head technician Jarrett Melton said a couple minutes before when I asked about his job.

"You can mess up a lot in a little bit of time in this business," he said. "You have to be a perfectionist."

"Perfectionist" isn't the first word I would use to describe myself, but the oil change went off without a hitch and not only was I supervised, my work was checked and rechecked.

"It's not an extremely high-paying job, but it is rewarding," he said. "People don't realize how much of their lives center around their cars. When you fix them, people are typically grateful. I like helping people and we try to be a part of this community and add to it instead of taking away from it."

Johnson typically sees people when they are having a bad day. People get mad when their cars breakdown, then they get mad that they have to pay to fix it.

But all it takes to turn that bad day around is knowing that you have put your livelihood -- because that is what a car is to many people -- in good hands.